28/01/2016 12:46 GMT | Updated 28/01/2017 05:12 GMT

Hope for Prison Reform

Reoffending blights lives and communities, carrying personal, social and economic costs of between £9.5billion and £13billion a year. Having a job or training to go to on release is crucial in helping people to turn their lives around. As chief executive of Timpson, the UK and Ireland's leading retail service provider, I have found that this is not only a great way of helping people, but also of getting great people to work for us.

My work with people in prison started over a decade ago when, during a visit to HMYOI Thorn Cross, I came across a young man called Matt. I was so impressed with his attitude and personality, that I gave him a guarantee of an interview following his release. Matt gave an outstanding interview and has remained in our paid full-time employment ever since.

Today, 10% of Timpson colleagues are recruited directly from prison. We actively interview prisoners from a pool of some 80 prisons, with a view to employing them on release. We offer work experience, placements on temporary release or in the prison-based Timpson Foundation Academies. Whilst there is no "guarantee" of a job, there is a guarantee of an interview for employment and a work-trial period.

I want to see more employers benefiting from the skills of former prisoners by providing opportunities for people on release. For every prisoner who successfully gains work on release, we know that many more will face rejection and unemployment. For about half of all job vacancies, employers are likely to reject most people with a criminal record.

I am currently chair of the Employers Forum for Reducing Reoffending (EFFRR), a group of likeminded employers who offer a second chance to people with a criminal conviction. EFFRR members actively encourage other employers to recruit ex-offenders and guide businesses along the way to help maximise the success of any placements.

Greater attention is also needed on improving treatment and conditions in our overcrowded prisons, and on reducing any needless use of imprisonment and its social and economic costs. We can't keep locking up 85,000 people today knowing that hardly any of them will manage to find work and that around 50% of them will be back in again within a year of release. There are currently too many people in prison, and we have a system that seems to keep bringing them back there time and time again--that has to stop. Prison reform means fewer prisons and better prisoners.

This is why I'm delighted to be joining the Prison Reform Trust's board as chair, and steering a charity with a strong track record of driving policy and practice change. Lord Woolf, who has served as chair during the last four years, has kindly agreed to take on a new honorary role at the Prison Reform Trust.

During his time as chair, Lord Woolf has seen prisons facing significant challenges in delivering the most basic of their functions - to keep people safe and less likely to reoffend on release. I know I will benefit from his wisdom, and the knowledge and skills of an experienced board and staff team, as I lead the charity into a new, and more hopeful, period for prison reform.